• For many people in the US, it’s taking several days or longer to get the results of a coronavirus test back.
  • For that reason, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates thinks it’s pretty much a “complete waste” to get a coronavirus test that takes that long to get results from.
  • In the meantime, the people waiting on those results are in some cases walking around and potentially infecting other people without realizing it.

Some days, the number of newly identified positive coronavirus cases here where I live is a big scary number — it topped 700, in fact, on one day a week or so ago, compared to early in the pandemic when we were freaking out here over 100 or so new positives in a single day. I live in Memphis, by the way, which is encompassed by Shelby County, and it’s our county health department that’s been tracking and announcing new cases as they come in.

Here lately, the numbers seem to be creeping higher and higher, such that it’s actually kind of hard now to get a sense of the day-to-day trends anymore. That’s because coronavirus testing sites keeping getting jammed up, test results get backlogged, and so some days are strangely light while others feature such depressing coronavirus test numbers it makes it seem like this virus is a plague that’s going to wipe us all out. In a recent interview, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates agreed this is a huge problem, and not just because of the time delay in getting test results processed and turned around.

In fact, the billionaire whose family foundation has been pumping tens of millions of dollars into the global fight against the coronavirus pandemic thinks it’s a “complete waste” and almost not even worth doing a test at all when it takes as long as 7-10 days to get test results back (that, by the way, is how long it was taking people to get their results back here in Memphis as of earlier this month).

To understand why it’s so ridiculous to deal with delays of this magnitude, let’s call your attention back to this news we reported a couple of weeks ago — about a pair of hairstylists in Missouri who inadvertently exposed a bunch of their clients to the coronavirus.

Long story short, these two started experiencing symptoms and decided to get tested for the coronavirus. Turns out, their results came back positive … but not right away. They still went back to work while they were waiting, which I won’t knock them for. How many of you are going to forgo getting paid because you might have something? They ended up seeing more than 100 clients in the time it took their test results to come back — 139, to be exact. That’s how many people were sitting right there, within the breathing space of someone who had the coronavirus.

Those clients all got tested themselves, and the good news is that not a single one of them ended up getting the virus passed to them. Public health officials took this as proof positive that face masks work — everyone in that salon, employees and clients alike, was required to and was wearing a face mask. The CDC even wrote a paper about this, titled: “Absence of Apparent Transmission of SARS-CoV-2 from Two Stylists After Exposure at a Hair Salon with a Universal Face Covering Policy.”

But while, yes, this episode proved that face masks work, Gates’ larger point still stands. Who knows how many people are walking around right now, unaware they have the virus while they’re waiting for test results and not isolating themselves at home until they find out. Which puts us all at risk.

Andy is a reporter in Memphis who also contributes to outlets like Fast Company and The Guardian. When he’s not writing about technology, he can be found hunched protectively over his burgeoning collection of vinyl, as well as nursing his Whovianism and bingeing on a variety of TV shows you probably don’t like.